In Part 1 of this article, the early history of the Central of Georgia Railway was featured. In Part 2, the railroad’s history from the late 1880s until it was acquired by Norfolk Southern is featured.
The acquirer is acquired but continues to grow
The Central of Georgia was acquired by the Richmond Terminal Company in 1887. The new company issued overvalued bonds based on the good credit of the Central. This resulted in huge corporate debts.
Under its new ownership, the Savannah & Western Railroad (S&W) was founded in 1888 as a Central subsidiary. It acquired several small railroads, pushing further into Alabama and across the Tennessee border. Shortly after it was founded the S&W purchased the 157-mile Columbus & Western (C&W), which connected Columbus with Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, a branch line ran from near the Alabama state line at Opelika to Roanoke.
The Buena Vista & Ellaville Railroad (BV&E) was also added at about the same time. The BV&E ran 30 miles from Americus (which was on the CRR&BC’s Macon main line) to Buena Vista. Under the S&W, that line was extended an additional 35 miles westward to Columbus. This meant that the Central had a continuous main line that ran from Savannah to Montgomery and Birmingham.
Another 1888 addition to the rail network was the Columbus & Rome, which had begun as the North & South Railroad of Georgia (N&S) in 1871. Governor Rufus Bullock had chartered the North & South to bring rail service to Georgia’s western regions. In 1877 the N&S finished a narrow-gauge railroad between Columbus and Hamilton – a distance of 23 miles. In 1882 its name was changed to the Columbus & Rome. A final extension to Greenville was completed in 1885.
In 1888 the Columbus & Rome was merged into the S&W. In 1906 the line’s narrow gauge tracks were converted to standard gauge; this coincided with a final extension to the town of Raymond, near Newnan, Georgia. From there, track rights over the Atlanta & West Point (West Point Route) were used to reach Atlanta, an arrangement that lasted for decades.
In 1890, the last S&W acquisition was the Chattanooga, Rome & Columbus Railroad (CR&C). Like the N&S, the CR&C began as a narrow-gauge railroad that was chartered on August 3, 1881. Its owners had intended to use and complete the unfinished N&S grading of about 50 miles between Rome and Carrollton.
Little progress occurred, but service was finally opened from Rome to Cedartown (a distance of about 20 miles) in 1887 before further work stopped. The railway was renamed the Chattanooga, Rome & Columbus in 1888 and completed to Carrollton. The narrow-gauge was widened and a standard gauge line was built from Rome to Chattanooga that same year.
The CR&C operated a 140-mile network. Under CRR&BCG ownership it became an important corridor on which interchange was made with the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (Southern) and Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis (Louisville & Nashville).
Acquired several times
The 1890s were tumultuous for the Central Rail Road & Banking Company of Georgia. In 1888 it was acquired by the same group that owned the Richmond & Danville Railroad and continued to grow through the early 1890s. On June 15, 1891 it leased the Macon & Northern Railroad, which operated a 106-mile line from Macon northward to Athens.
However, in March 1892 a legal dispute was begun by a CRR&BC shareholder because of shady business dealings by the railroad’s parent companies.
Also beginning in 1892 the Central had several owners. The company was put under receivership that year; Hugh Comer was named Receiver. The CRR&BC controlled almost 2,700 miles of track at that time.
The Central Of Georgia Railway begins
On October 7, 1895 the Central’s assets were purchased by Thomas & Ryan, a New York City-based investment banking firm. On October 17th the Central of Georgia Railway was incorporated to acquire the remaining assets of the CRR&BC and formally began service on October 31st. The Central of Georgia Railway era began; Comer (the former Receiver) was named as president.
Although the new railroad was able to retain most of the CRR&BC’s leased and controlled lines, it lost all holdings in South Carolina. This included stakes in the Port Royal & Augusta and Port Royal & Western lines; these two railroads connected Port Royal, South Carolina with Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg via Augusta. Also lost was a more direct route from Savannah and Birmingham via Americus and Columbus.
At its peak the Central Rail Road & Banking Company of Georgia had owned some 2,700 miles of rail, including all subsidiaries and leased properties. After being reorganized as the Central of Georgia (CoG) the new railroad maintained a network of 1,520 miles.
There were a few final extensions made during the 1890s and the early 20th century. One was the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad, which came with the Central’s 1895 reorganization. The railroad began in 1887 as the Savannah & Tybee Island Railway; it provided passenger service from Savannah to the nearby vacation destination of Tybee Island. The railroad was less than 18 miles in length. Its name was changed in 1890 to the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad. It generated little freight revenue after a highway was built to the beach in 1923, and rail service was discontinued on July 31, 1933.
On December 31, 1896 the CoG acquired the Middle Georgia & Atlantic Railway, which extended from Milledgeville/Eatonton to Covington, bisecting the CoG’s line to Athens. In 1899 that branch added a short extension to Porterdale.
In 1900 the railroad grew again when the line from Columbia, Georgia was extended to Sellersville, Alabama via Dothan. It also built extensions to Paxton and Lakewood, Florida, which were the railroad’s only Florida tracks. However, during the 1940s all the railroad’s tracks west of Dothan were either sold or abandoned.
In 1907, the Central of Georgia Railway Company was purchased by E.H. Harriman, an investment banker based in New York City. Two years later Harriman sold the railroad to the Illinois Central Railroad (IC).
Into the 20th century the Central of Georgia was a profitable railroad and connected with many of the South’s largest markets. It maintained a steady flow of traffic, particularly interchange movements, with other railroads like the Southern, Illinois Central, Seaboard Air Line, Louisville & Nashville and Atlantic Coast Line.
The Central was at its peak in the 1920s. Its passenger services ranged from its Nancy Hanks, which operated between Savannah and Atlanta to participation in several through services to Florida including the Flamingo, Seminole, Southland, Dixie Flyer and Dixie Limited.
Its freight traffic was also diversified; it carried agricultural goods, manufactured goods, coal, forest products, steel, cotton and various less-than-carload movements.
The railroad’s success and many markets drew interest from much larger railroads. The IC maintained direct control of the Central of Georgia until 1932. During the Great Depression the Central went into bankruptcy, but continued operations. The IC used the Central of Georgia to extend its reach into the Southeast and maintained an influence until 1948.
Following World War II, the Central introduced new streamlined passenger trains, the Nancy Hanks II and the Man O’ War. Both used diesel locomotives instead of steam locomotives.
In the late 1940s, the Central of Georgia was among many railroads that began switching to diesel locomotives as its steam locomotives were retired. This began the slow decline of the Savannah Shops. As diesel locomotives began to replace steam locomotives on most American railroads, shop complexes designed to service steam locomotives were ill-suited for diesel maintenance and were slowly phased out. The Central of Georgia had been the largest employer in Savannah for 100 years, but that ended as the steam locomotives were phased out over a number of years.
In 1948 the Central of Georgia exited receivership; it had been stuck in reorganization since December 20, 1932. Because the railroad was out of receivership, the IC lost its holdings in the railroad.
The Central of Georgia acquired its last railroad in 1951 – the Savannah & Atlanta Railway. With this acquisition, the Central gained a more direct Savannah-Atlanta routing.
In June 1956, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway attempted to expand by acquiring the Central of Georgia. However, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ruled against the attempted acquisition. Instead the ICC permitted Southern Railway to acquire the Central of Georgia Railway on June 17, 1963. Over the next several years the Southern integrated CoG’s operations into its own. Following its acquisition, Southern Railway closed down Central’s Savannah shops, ending more than 100 years of railroad activity at the site.
The Central of Georgia heritage
In 1971, Southern Railway renamed the company the Central of Georgia Railroad after three smaller lines were merged into the Central.
Then in 1982, Southern Railway merged with the Norfolk & Western Railroad, creating the Norfolk Southern Corporation.
The Central of Georgia Railroad remains a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and is still on the books as an operating railroad. In fact, Norfolk Southern still uses Central of Georgia markings on some of its locomotives.
The following sources were used to develop this article, and the writer is thankful for the research and information provided by them. If you are interested to learn more, these are excellent sources:
- American-Rails.com: Central of Georgia Railway: Map, Roster, History, Logo
- CHSGeorgia.org: A Brief History of the Central of Georgia Railroad by John A. Caramia, Jr.
- Hawkinsrails.net: Central of Georgia Railroad
- Central of Georgia Railway Historical Society